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How to design a solution for waste pollution with your students

Last month, we shared what a Make it Open Learning Scenario (LS) is, a tool that supports a school’s transition into open schooling. Today, we will delve into one specific Learning Scenario and the four building blocks – Brief, Research, Create and Share – that make this LS unique. This LS was developed by Waag, the Future Lab for technology and society from the Netherlands with the help of the Ir. Lely Lyceum school in Amsterdam. It is a Learning Scenario addressing the treatment of waste by challenging students to design a waste collecting system that will prevent people from polluting the environment with litter. Students were tasked with gathering information and a sense of community whilst working in a team to design their final product. This is the “Dealing with Waste” Learning Scenario.

Table: Dealing with Waste breakdown highlighting the building blocks Brief, Research, Create and Share, and the corresponding Learning Units that fall under each.

Dealing with Waste – Brief

The aim here was for students to explore a small part outside of their school, affected by waste. They started the project by having a field trip to a park where they would compete against one another to see who could collect the most waste. During this, the students even took time to photograph different types of waste to analyse later in the classroom.

Dealing with Waste – Research

For the second part of this LS, Research, the students looked for the actual problem arising from litter. They created a timeline of waste according to the pictures taken and the time needed for it to decompose. Their teacher reported that: 

“A timeline with the number of years something took to decompose appealed less to the students than a timeline with personal milestones on it, such as when they will graduate or have grandchildren. It made it more personal for them. So instead of 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, we used the year 2030, the year 2050, the year 2070, the year 2120.” 

During this part of the LS a lecture on behaviour design given by an expert gave them ideas on how to influence people’s behaviour in fun and rewarding ways. With this new found knowledge, the students decided they needed more data before designing a solution. A survey was created, asking questions such as: Why do you think you’re not concerned about the waste pollution? What would you need to make a change? Conducting this survey, the teacher “expected more difficulties, but the students were very good at approaching respondents. They really wanted to gather inside information for the sake of their project.”

Dealing with Waste – Create

In the third stage of this LS, Create, students were encouraged after their research to design a waste collection solution. Before doing so the students attended an electronic course by an expert in order to learn how to work with basic electronics. With this, the students built a number of prototypes for the waste collection solution as seen below.

Photograph: WAAG, electronic course.


Photograph: WAAG, Waste disposal solutions made by students.

The outcomes were all different and creative. For example, the red prototype on the left side makes a really high pitched sound until someone puts trash inside. Here students even tried to research how high the pitch should be so only young people would hear it. Clever, isn’t it? Other students, for example, wanted to make the action of throwing trash more fun. For this, students designed the blue prototype on the right side. The design was simple, once the trash was inside the basket, a lottery system would give a ticket and at the end of the month, a ticket was selected at random and a prize was given to that person.

Dealing with Waste – Share

The final step, Share, was dedicated to preparing a presentation of the student’s project that was shared with a dedicated audience in the school cafeteria.

In the end, they didn’t go too far outside of the school to try different methods, learn new things and most importantly, be happy with their project. As one of the teachers remarked: 

“students often came up with solutions that I had not thought of. By freeing up space for them to explore and scaling back the assignment to a prototype, the students felt liberated from restrictions and came up with great solutions and experiments”

This LS can be used and adapted to many schools and countries around the globe; the school system might not be the same but the subject of waste pollution is definitely universal.

Want to be involved in Make it Open?

Our next step is to test the Make it Open framework during the 2022-2023 school year across 10 countries in 150 schools: Greece, Hungary, Israel, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK. If you want to be a part of this open schooling movement, leave us your contact details and we will contact you once we kick off this next phase. Or you can simply share this article with your own network.

Visit the Make it Open website or get in contact with Ecsite – The European Network of Science Centres and Museums.